India in talks with Australia for free trade pact, says foreign minister

Mr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also said India and Australia would have "very strong defence ties".
Mr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also said India and Australia would have "very strong defence ties".PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India and Australia are in discussions for a bilateral free trade agreement, said Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, following New Delhi's decision to walk out of a China-backed trade bloc.

"There is a discussion on a free trade agreement, a bilateral free trade agreement as well because, as you know, we didn't sign the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership)," Mr Jaishankar said in an interview with Australia-based Lowy Institute, a foreign policy research group on Wednesday (Dec 9).

Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies signed the RCEP last month, forming the world's largest free trade bloc that excludes the United States.

India pulled out of RCEP talks in November last year, but leaders from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) said the door remained open for India to join.

RCEP groups the 10-member Asean as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Jaishankar also said India and Australia would have "very strong defence ties", adding that he hoped for strong trade cooperation.

Last month, India, along with Australia, the United States and Japan conducted their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade, seen as part of efforts to balance China's vast military and economic power in the region.